One of the things I appreciated most when I began dating my now-fiancé was the fact that I knew where we stood. He asked me out to dinner and actually called it a date, he officially asked to be my boyfriend after we had gotten to know each other, and we openly discussed where we were headed. Isn’t this a far better approach than wondering, over months and months of flirty catch-ups, whether someone is actually interested in you? Isn’t it better than having to ask a guy, as he drops you off, whether we’d just been on a date (yup, I’ve done that)? I definitely think so, but I’m afraid our culture does not.
This is why, upon reading a NY Times essay titled “No Labels, No Drama, Right?,” I was more than grateful for the refreshing perspective. Sure, author Jordana Narin tends to question the nonsensicality of the situation rather than straight-out criticise it, but perhaps this was a more effective tactic.
The essay tells her story of “her Jeremy,” aka her unlabeled four-year romance, one that never went anywhere and yet always lurked in the background via fluctuating text message conversations, sporadic hook-ups and never-to-be-articulated feelings. Doesn’t sound so healthy, does it?
Our culture, however, like to think that labels are unnecessary. I’ve discussed this many a time with different people, and my opinion tends to be in the minority. They tell me that a label is just unnecessary pressure, that I need to calm down and go with the flow (funny, I’m generally quite a laidback person), and that anyway, the person who cares less is the winner (oops, I must have forgotten that relationships were a competition).
None of these arguments are doing it for me, so let me tell you what’s I think is at risk of happening when you leave things “unlabeled” over a long period of time:
I don’t think I’m going too far in saying that not labelling a potentially romantic relationship (that has been carrying on for a decent amount of time) is disrespectful to yourself and the other person. Isn’t it just basic manners to be straight with someone, especially where matters of the heart are concerned?
Unhealthy emotional attachment
I can only imagine that it must be emotionally tiring to be putting 100% effort and energy into someone who seems to be in a relationship with you, but then isn’t. Your developing feelings for each other (or at least on one side) have no grounding, and quite frankly could be shunned at any time. And as for the inevitable stress and anxiety of not knowing where you stand, or of always hoping for something more: that’s some tiring stuff.
Bad attitudes – using people and keeping options open
I think that unlabeled romantic relationships teach some very unhealthy attitudes. The first of these would be to use people: after all, it’s mighty convenient (not to mention damaging) to have all the benefits of a relationship without the hard work and commitment. And then there’s the attitude of keeping one’s options open – how nice it must be to give yourself to someone who’s always on the look-out for something better! Young people too often think that freedom lies in keeping your options open – not in making an informed decision and sticking to it, which is much more liberating in the long-term.
“And if it never ends, there’s no real closure, no opportunity to move on”
In other words, it’s pretty awkward. How do you move on from someone that you never admitted you were with? How do you mourn a relationship that you pretended not to be in? It seems to me that all a long-term, unlabeled relationship provides is wasted time, broken hearts, and intimacy lost to someone who perhaps didn’t deserve it.